Escape Plan

escape planTwo action heavyweights compete to speak the most intelligibly attempt to escape the ultimate high-security prison in Escape Plan, another 1990s-like relic action picture popping up in 2013.  The film pairs Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as co-leads, and unfortunately, the teaming feels less exciting than it should, partly because the stars have shared a frame before in both cheeseball Expendables movies, and also because the prison thriller fails to drive outside of its outdated B-movie parameters.  Somehow, though, the buddy-flick still passes as mindless nostalgic entertainment.

If you think you’re getting an updated version of these two icons in a more modern movie, think again.  Escape Plan is just about as silly as The Expendables entries or any of the action films the stars participated in during the 1980s.  Stallone plays a prison-escape expert, Ray Breslin, who takes a job essentially off the books, under the radar, and behind the veil.  He agrees to be planted in a secret prison facility that his regular outside team members (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson and Amy Ryan) can not know about.  Ray is abducted in a van, drugged, and awakens in a glass cell. Once introduced to the serpent warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), Ray realizes he literally can’t escape this prison, as someone set him up to ‘be buried here.’  Ray doesn’t know why, and only with the help of a new trusted inmate, Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), might Ray be able to find a way out for them both.

ArnoldEscapeThe premise of the film, while silly and always rather nonsensical, deserves better execution, as do Stallone and Schwarzenegger.  Director Mikael Håfström adds very little flavor or interest to liven up what turns out to be an occasionally violent straightforward drama.  The action comes in marginal doses and Håfström has no idea what do with these two men or how to film a scene in truly exciting fashion.  The script also needed to smarter as it fails to fully delve into the idea of high-tech prison know-how.  Stallone’s character attempts seemingly simple, logical methods of escape, but the film never allows the character to pull off an imaginative trick in order to advance his evasion.

At the very least, the film should have been rewritten to better accommodate Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s personalities.  Rarely even does the dialogue poke fun at the aging stars (outside of a few token cheesy one-liners), nor do the filmmakers ever take any of the scenes particularly seriously by ratcheting up the intensity levels.  Instead, Sly and Arnold carry the entire movie on their backs, and the hope is that their mere presence is enough to make Escape Plan enjoyable.

Escape Plan 10Luckily, Arnold and Sly are pros in this sort of game and they seem to be enjoying each other’s company  even when the actual ‘escape plan’ and intelligence of Stallone’s character rarely give the film any depth or believability.  The plan is never actually all that exciting in and of itself.  Instead the confrontations set up by the two lead characters keep us watching and holding out.  Stallone is far more watchable here than he has been in his recent efforts.  Schwarzenegger adds a refreshing air to the movie as he hams up nearly every scene he can.

The excitement builds quite a bit more toward the climax which gives us fans a taste of the blow-em-up action the stars typically warrant.  It’s not enough to earn action-classic status, and Escape Plan certainly never lives up to its potential, but there’s just enough from Stallone and Schwarzenegger to enjoy it purely as a mild guilty pleasure that manages to escape callow direction and a lacking script.  If you’re a fan of these two icons, then you should at least enjoy it.  If not, there is admittedly little to love here.

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Captain Phillips

captain-phillips-international-posterWhen four Somali pirates board an American distribution vessel at sea, Captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) must outsmart the armed gunmen in order to keep his crew safe from harm.  While the pirates look to steer the ship back to Somalia for a hefty payday, Phillips attempts to keep the villains squarely under his thumb while his men hidden below deck conjure up a plan to eliminate the threat.

Paul Greengrass generates great suspense as he has done with his previous efforts in the Bourne series and United 93.  He slowly turns the screws and allows Hanks and his generous gifts as an actor to pull the audience into a terrifying hostage situation.  It all feels authentic and true to the moment. It’s a desperate situation for a group of union laborers treading dangerous waters and we identify with the struggle and Hanks’ character caught in the middle.

Hanks hasn’t had a movie this good in a while, and in fact, the movie pulls him out of his usual comfort range, and plants him firmly into an intense thriller environment.  His character displays strong leadership, intuition, and fear.  But Greengrass also allows the Somalis some human dimension as well and in many ways he illuminates their do-or-die attempt to claim the ship, because if they don’t, their ‘elders’ will likely kill them.

Based on a true story, the movie dismisses the usual impulses to turn into an outlandish action picture.  I’m sure there’s the occasional spottiness for theatrics, but I consistently felt a pulsing reality to the film’s events.  Captain Phillips is a very thrilling drama and comes highly recommended.

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Gravity

gravity-bullockposter-fullGravity is the thrilling adventure to beat this year, and by my forecast, I think the skies are clear for this thriller from Alfonso Cuaron.  Known for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, Cuaron has spent the last few years piecing Gravity together, a film that features only two actors and a whole lot of outer space.

Sandra Bullock, in what will likely turn out to be the performance of the year and possibly her career, tackles the challenge of portraying astronaut Ryan Stone who attempts to make adjustments to a satellite alongside fellow spaceman, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).   Soon enough a whirlwind storm of debris dices through their ship and sends Stone spinning wildly out of control into space.  Her only communication with NASA will soon dissipate once she floats too far out and her oxygen tank levels are already low.

This is about where the theatrical trailer for the movie leaves you hanging. The synopsis and trailer both left me wondering, what story could be left to tell?  Where can the movie possibly go after that point?

Cuaron is no dummy and he quickly turns Gravity into an eye-popping 3D adventure that not only fails to overstay its welcome at a quick 90 minutes, but gives us a taste of what space may actually be like.  How will Stone survive her impossible situation?  That is the question.  The movie takes us through her journey which essentially amounts to a one woman show that Bullock handles unflinchingly.

But let’s not forget Clooney who actually pours a great deal of humor into an extremely tense film and gives the weightlessness some grounding when it can really use it.  Make no mistake, this is Bullock’s ‘Cast Away’ and she nails it.  So does Cuaron who keeps the events, which had the potential to come off as repetitive, in check and moving at all times.  This is a theatrical experience if ever there was one, and the amount of time and effort that had to go into a visual movie like this is staggering.  It’s so technically precise from top to bottom.  The 3D is especially utilized well and enhances the film.

But at the core of this odyssey, and beyond all of the production values and whiz-bang “I’ve never quite seen this before” marveling, is a story of survival and a very strong actress that carries the entire movie.  Look for all this year’s award accolades to fall to Gravity, and watch Miss Bullock accept her second Oscar in a few months time.  Gravity is a movie to experience (in the theater, in 3D).

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Prisoners

prisoners-posterReligious symbolism clashes with the harsh brutalities of a world bent in two by purely evil forces in the drama Prisoners which seeks to frighten, disturb, and wring us out emotionally. The redeeming qualities, however, unleash some terrific acting performances and unsettling suspense throughout a 2 1/2 hour runtime that manages to fly.

Two missing six-year-old girls from two different suburban families (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello) – (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis) are the center of an investigation led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal).  There is only one clear suspect to Keller Dover (Jackman), and that is a mentally challenged, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), whom Keller believes abducted the girls in his RV.  Loki, however, can’t find any substantial evidence to support Jones as his man.

A spiraling investigation leads Loki and Keller to desperation in their own ways.  As each day passes, the girls are certainly closer to death if they aren’t already.

Directed with a great deal of feeling by Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners resists the route of typical revenge actioners and actually heads up the drama in very realistic, albeit overwrought, fashion.  The premise manages to carry the film for quite a while leading to a satisfying and physically draining conclusion that answers nearly every question the audience can throw at it.  While the film lends itself to being picked apart due to the nature of an unfolding mystery, the picture is held together so well by alarmingly good performances for thinly drawn characters that have little range on paper, yet bloom onscreen.

Jackman is the angry autocratic father.  Gyllenhaal is the determined investigator.  Bello is the weeping wife.  None of the characters have lives outside of their predicament.  Yet the acting is so very good that I failed to notice it much until further reflection.

This is obviously the kind of film gunning for awards attention, and for the most part it deserves it.  Jackman and Gyllenhaal especially deliver strong performances worthy of consideration.  The film as a whole could be a little tighter, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was glued to the screen the entire time, even when I wanted to look away.  Prisoners is a mostly fascinating drama that delivers a strong hit to the gut.

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World War Z

World-War-Z-posterFurther global annihilation awaits audiences this weekend in the form of World War Z, a massively expensive summer tentpole picture geared toward action-seekers and zombie fanatics, though it’s likely to please one of those crowds more than the other.  The film is based on a novel by Max Brooks of which I conquered a mountainous six pages.  That’s not to the novel’s detriment.  I merely put it down and never picked it back up.

No matter.  The screenplay divided up by three writers apparently ditched the source material and instead journeys with Gerry Lane played capably by superstar Brad Pitt.  Gerry has one of those professions never fully explained, but he is recruited out of retirement by the United Nations on a global quest to track down the origins of a zombie virus that has catapulted the planet into chaos.

The film opens with Gerry and his family—wife and two young daughters—traveling in the car when the outbreak hits.  Cars slam into each other.  Crowds flee in the streets.  Hordes of rabid human undead attack civilians on the run and spread the pandemic.  Within seconds, humans are fed on and turned to monstrous, speedy, lethal cannibals.

Gerry is offered a secure naval base shelter for his family in exchange for his efforts to track the down the spread of the virus.  He joins a military strike force and globe-trots from the U.S. to South Korea to Jerusalem in search for answers that might allow him to find a cure for the spreading contagion.

Unfortunately for World War Z, the film has arrived following a wave of negative buzz after its production budget ballooned to unfathomable proportions for this type of zombie apocalypse thriller.  A third act rewrite and reshoot didn’t help matters especially when rumors spread that Brad Pitt quit talking to the director, Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Machine Gun Preacher), and threatened to walk out on the film.  Consider all the rumors hearsay.  What we finally have onscreen is pure unrelenting entertainment from start to finish, a film that easily outguns and KO’s all alien superheroes and fast car lovers.

world-war-z-brad-pittWorld War Z is a superb suspense-thriller and manages to succeed against all odds even for a PG-13 zombie film.  Whether Forster, his editors, or his writers pulled off the magic required or blind luck intervened, this was not the choppy moviegoing experience I was expecting.  The computer-generated mounds of zombies featured in the trailers raised I Am Legend-sized visual doubts, but actually turn out to be quite freaky physical specimens, which are (in individual cases) actually human actors sporting incredible makeup and prosthetic enhancements sans much of the gore fans have become accustomed to.

Believe me when I say the lack of blood never once hinders the film from its storytelling ambitions, nor from rampant intensity and scares.  There are plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat moments.  Several sequences mount tingling suspense.  The filmmakers have flat-out created a well-structured thriller that flows neatly across continents from start to finish atop Brad Pitt’s shoulders.  Its his show and he does create a genuine character that the audience can root for as he struggles to return to his family and save the world.

At a tight 2 hour running time, World War Z delivers the goods and winds up a fine summer blockbuster filled with big action, big thrills, and the kind of suspense this season has been lacking.  Despite the lack of blood, the movie has plenty of guts, and it knows how to turn up the intensity to eleven.  Skip the 3D conversion and forget about a faithful adaptation to novel.  If you can do so I’m betting you’ll eat it up.

 

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Man of Steel

man-of-steel-poster-600x886Warner Bros. really wants Superman to turn into the next Dark Knight franchise and Zack Snyder’s mega opus Man of Steel makes a serious run for your money.  It’s a gargantuan exercise in Transformer-sized destruction masquerading as a modernized take on the most popular superhero of all time.  Can the caped do-gooder savior survive a dead-on serious interpretation courtesy of the 300, Watchmen-helmer with the guiding hand of producer Christopher Nolan?

As a matter of fact—he can, but not without a few scars and lacerations.  Man of Steel is admittedly somewhat of a choppy mess missing much of the beating heart a Superman film desperately needs more than an alien super-punch.  Snyder attempts to restructure Kal-El and his battle against the alienation of being, well, an alien.  The film lifts off immediately in a big way—Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother are introduced on planet Krypton (very Avatar-esque) in the middle of a planetary Armageddon.  Krptonians haven’t been able to deliver a natural born child for many years until Jor-El’s wife delivers a baby that is immediately shuttled off to Earth in the hopes of giving him a chance to survive before military leader/lunatic Zod (Michael Shannon) can find the child and turn him to mush.

Fast forward.  Kal-El (renamed Clark Kent on Earth) is a 33-year-old man-alien in hiding as a savior-to-be.  Through flashbacks, Snyder introduces Clark’s restrained hostility and his heroic efforts to save others in need despite his father’s disapproval.  Kevin Costner, superb yet limited in the film as Pa Kent, instructs Clark that the world isn’t ready for the unveiling of Clark’s identity and incredible abilities.  The film bounces around important highlights from Clark’s life before plunging into the efforts of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the willful reporter who stumbles upon Kent in the Fortress of Solitude.  Kent discovers his past.  Lane discovers the story of her career.  Bring out the cape and the romance.

Kent dons the infamous suit just in time to do battle with Zod who manages to find Earth with his evil cohorts in an attempt to reclaim that last artifact of Krypton following its destruction: Clark/Kal-El.  In the process, Zod wants to also level all of Earth and rebuild Krypton.  With no earthly measures able to stop Zod and his troops, Superman locks fists with beings just as powerful as he in the hopes of saving the third rock from the sun before it is wiped out.

I have to give Snyder credit for taking a full bludgeoning swing at the infamous DC universe character and despite a few strikes, he manages a base hit—one that nearly shatters the ball.  You couldn’t pack any more action and mayhem into the final hour of this movie.  If there is anyone left alive in the massive destruction of Metropolis by the time the film is over, consider Superman back for another go-around as the world’s alien savior.  Fans looking for action will feast on this film.  Fans looking for a little more character development will find a lot to be desired with Snyder’s film.

Granted, another origin story for Superman in 2013 wasn’t going to be an easy task.  Most viewers know the story, the beats, and what must be included.  To retread so much information already committed to film over the course of five previous feature Superman films *not to mention ten seasons of Smallville and however many seasons of Lois and Clark), would have the blind taste of Novocaine.  After a while the filmmakers wouldn’t have realized they were chewing off their own tongues.

ManofSteel-ZodWith flashback sequences utilized for Man of Steel, the required information regarding Kent’s past makes it to audiences, albeit in disjointed fashion that hinders the narrative from ever finding the proper fluidity.  The romance spark between Lois and Clark never fully develops, and everything that must occur feels like a falling gavel.  The filmmakers have sentenced the film ‘that this must take place!’  However, Snyder still captures the parallels of Christ and Kent’s battle against vengeful (sinful) temptation when ultimately he must be the burdened savior of the world that his father sent him to be.

The battle of give-and-take for audience expectation hits the film hard in the gut without bringing it to its knees.  When the film isn’t showcasing the highlight reel, some great moments and performances sneak through.  Most notably of course is Henry Cavill as the latest actor to adorn the costume.  He fits it well.  The actor comes across as charming, powerful, and certainly human.  For my money he is a great Superman in a not-so-great movie.  Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe are also especially good here.  Even when they all have less to do, they provide the necessary supporting talent the film really needs.

The film’s greatest disappointment arrives in the form of Michael Shannon whose one-note expression gives the villain Zod little to do.  Perhaps the script shortchanged him, but for whatever reason I found Shannon lacking in terms of a death-blow adversary.  Was he too serious that the performance came off campy?  I don’t know.  A second viewing might sort that out for me.

Another critical factor in lessening the film’s impact has to be enormous action that meanders more in silliness than importance.  The fighting feels ongoing, but never immediate.  Honestly.  The destruction in the film morphs into the Octomom-love-children of Roland Emmerich, Michael Bay, and well, Zack Snyder.  Visually, yes, this is a mammoth spectacle to behold and I have to say that the special effects will likely drown out any other film this year.  Or next year.  But Snyder’s movie endeavor, at 2 1/2 hours, had no limits in the action department.

Yet Man of Steel still manages to fly.  I walked away satisfied, but without the butterflies.  The film is flawed for sure, but this team can take flight with a clear-cut adventure  for the sequel now that the dust has settled on the choppy origin story.  I’m guessing the film will take place ten years in the future when the rebuilding of Metropolis has a chance to finish.

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Fast and Furious 6

fF6Like exhaust through a catalytic converter, so are the days of the Torretto family.

Six installments.  Six.  Car drive and car drive fast.  This concept has spanned SIX! feature films.  As of late the crash-mania squealing-tire saga has only gained further momentum.  Vin Diesel, the legitimate star of the series, announced that next summer’s greenlit Fast 7 (set up at the closing credits of this current installment) will begin a new trilogy.  Heaven help us all.

The crew of the massive blockbuster Fast Five returns for round 6 or Furious 6 as its titled in the opening credits and the results are exactly what you expect.  Just don’t try following the titles of these movies.  And be sure to remember that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (or Fast 3) from seven years ago takes place after all previous Fast & Furious features including this sixth entry.  Still up to speed?

Picking up immediately where we left in Fast 5, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) gains a new partner in Agent Riley (MMA beauty Gina Carano, Haywire) and sets out to court Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) living peacefully on a tropical island with his newfound lady friend (and Hobbs’ former partner) Elena (Elsa Pataky).  Hobbs needs Dom to recruit his team once more to take on the international threat of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a really bad terrorist with a really bad device that is capable of something very bad and might be used by said bad terrorist or sold to another really bad terrorist.

Why would Torretto be interested?  Why even bother confiding in his F&F-chum-for-life Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) who just had a new baby boy with Torretto’s sister (Jordana Brewster)?  Because Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s murdered lover (as it happened in Fast 4) is still very much alive and may in fact be working with Shaw.  Dom needs to know for sure and “you don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

fast-furious-6Walker, Diesel, Johnson, and Carano welcome Ludacris, Sung Kang, Tyrese, and Gal Gadot in yet another family reunion full of physics-defying metal on metal stunts and set pieces linked to moments of eye-rolling blabbering buffoons yawning us to death about family values.  Justin Lin, the confident man behind the action of the last four F&F films, smolders a not-so-subtle subtext of family and loyalty over car mangling.  Dominic, our antihero, may be an outlaw, but he has a code and he protects his own which adds a great deal of honor to his outlandish escapades.  The villain Shaw, on the other hand, plays by-the-numbers and finds his team members to be no more than disposable pawns in his strategic chess game that he always holds the upper hand in.

Who cares?  I don’t and neither do viewers.  They want “vehicular warfare” and they do get it, bigger and better than usual which is a major compliment coming off the high of Fast Five.  But I have to admit I’m fatigued of this series which now throws a few too many big wrenches at my head in terms of plot.  Believe me.  I’m not referring to the stunts, which feature only slightly more lunacy than the story.

The plot is a gigantic mess of pointless setup met with needless execution. Follow the events of Fast 6 and you will scratch your head over the decisions the characters make in an effort to string together some large action sequences.  Potential SPOILERS ahead.  Stop here. I know I’m criticizing a live-action cartoon that delivers exactly what is intended, but bear with me.

Point 1:  Hobbs recruits Dom and a team of international criminals he set to take down in the last movie.  Why?  Because there needs to be a movie, not because he wouldn’t work with an actual military unit or strike force or… something like that.

Point 2: O’Connor decides to infiltrate a stateside prison as an inmate in order to get close to a former villain from the series who may have some information on what happened to Letty.  Why?  I don’t know actually.  This is the most idiotic development in the movie.  The mission would likely get O’Connor killed and it nearly does.  But the funny thing is that the information is of zero importance.  The characters already know where Letty is, have seen her and know that she is alive and likely has memory issues.  Torretto goes and finds her on his own before O’Connor even returns from his adventure.  Dom instructs his buddy to spare him the ‘vital information’ that was worth dying over.

Point 3:  For being the smartest villain in the room, Shaw is a moron.  He says he doesn’t care for his team members and finds them to be replaceable.  Except for Letty, the smart-mouth, authority-defying brain batter mess that generally serves little purpose for Shaw throughout the film.  Torretto offers to walk away from Shaw and leave him alone if he can have Letty back.  Shaw refuses.  Idiot.

Point 4: Torretto and Shaw, in multiple instances throughout the film, have a chance to take each other out either directly or through their cohorts.  They don’t take the shot.  Then there’s the back and forth of the heroes having Shaw and letting him go.  And having him and letting him go.  Dumb.

Fast and the Furious 6Point 5: The action has zero consequences and the cartoonish nature of the series removes any and all suspense or tension.  Multiple fistfights occur in this installment.  Heroes and villains bludgeon each other with nary a bruise or scratch.  At one point, Diesel’s character dives headfirst into the skull of any angry giant thug man and walks away unscathed.  As insane as the car stunts become, whether the heroes are facing off against tanks or airliners, the action reaches such high levels but rarely evokes actual danger.  Characters consistently fight through hell but never show injury until the final blow—if they do in fact die.

That’s where the series has really worn me out.  Bang bang boom, but no one gets hurt until they die.  This roadrunner-coyote cartoon chase only entertains for so long when there’s no suspense or actual imminent danger to the characters.  I know other PG-13 action films have dealt with the same problems, but none are as numb to reality as the Fast series, at least to my present knowledge.

Justin Lin has a balancing act with these films and he succeeds with a far more prominent and successful use of humor this time around, but there are simply too many characters and subplots to juggle at this point.  The action even suffers in terms of the different bobbing heads we are forced to jump back and forth with.  Do I commend the action?  Yes.  But somewhere down the line I became numb to it.  The F&F fans should rejoice, however, as this is probably a franchise high for them, even though I found it a step down from Part 5.  If you want bloodless carnage, mindless action, and by-the-numbers soap opera, then Fast 6 will serve you plenty.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

star-trekinto-darkness-posterSo much hoopla has been made over king-of-nerds J.J. Abrams directing the next chapter of the Star Wars saga that his latest sequel Star Trek Into Darkness has played second fiddle to the wave of news circling that other sci-fi universe.  For casual Trek fans, such as myself, Abrams will likely do for Star Wars what he has done for Captain Kirk and crew.

Abrams brought Trek out of the depths of cult obscurity and hammered down the door of nerdom to allow mainstream audiences access to an otherwise closed-off franchise.  With the use of punk wit, a young cast of immense talent, rousing action sequences, and the gravitational pull of dead-on comedy, the Star Trek reboot was one of very few films to not bring further slander to the term ‘reboot.’  The more times I’ve viewed the 2009 entry, the more I enjoy it as all-around grade-A entertainment.

Thus Mr. Abrams’ sequel Into Darkness gets a little more serious and has slightly less fun toying around with the strict mechanics of series expectations.  Slightly less.  The Abrams magic is still intact and he manages to deliver a satisfying action-sequel that simply hasn’t the fresh air of the previous film especially when the story relies on previously-mined material.

For round two Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), having just been suspended from active duty, is  driven to revenge after a terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) stages multiple attacks on the Federation that results in the untimely death of one of Kirk’s most endearing mentors.  The appointed captain reenlists Spock (Zachary Quinto) as his first officer and sets out with his crew aboard the Enterprise on a Starfleet mission to target the fugitive Harrison in hiding on a Klingon planet.  Relations are tense between the Federation and the Klingons, and Kirk has been ordered to target Harrison with highly powerful torpedoes whilst trying avoid the start of a planetary war.

star-trek-into-darkness-stillKirk must also grapple with his own thirst for blood and his rocky rapport with his crew members.  The story further digs into Trek lore, Spock’s and Uhura’s (Zoe Saldana) unlikely romantic relationship, and springs about as many laughs as the previous entry.  I honestly wasn’t quite as engulfed in this Trek, but only by a slim margin.  The film is still visually brilliant and action-packed, but the more sinister tones have set in as is to be expected for a second installment.

Most noteworthy in this chapter is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain Harrison.  He’s a brilliant, deep-voiced menace full of mystery and intrigue.  The performance is the stuff of terrific acting and he’s certainly a much more memorable foe than Eric Bana as the bald Romulan from ’09 Trek.  The rest of the cast is exceptionally good just as they were last time, but Cumberbatch is a standout and helps elevate this sequel above its few shortcomings in originality and suspense.

The themes at play revolve around the true meaning of leadership, friendship and heroism.  It is here that the writers and Director Abrams pave the way for a strong emotional journey for the leading characters.  Set against the backdrop of grand set pieces—Spock caught on a small bed of rock in the middle of an erupting volcano; Kirk suited up and soaring through space between two Federation spaceships; Harrison’s attack on the Federation tower—the emotional undercurrent allows the action to actually have some stake.  But then occasionally, and all too abruptly, Abrams hooks back into familiar territory that the franchise has previously explored rather than leap over new hurdles.

As much as I think J.J. Abrams has delivered Star Trek out of darkness, I assume he will be moving on from the franchise to become engulfed in Star Wars.  Even though I would still welcome him back to Trek, perhaps that will be for the best?  Abrams has relied upon alternate takes of previous adventures for Trek thus far and I think it’s time for a new director to expropriate Abrams’ discovered fountain of youth for this franchise and hasten the current Enterprise crew to a new infinite frontier from a storytelling perspective.   Please don’t misunderstand, however.  Into Darkness is a rock-solid film and likely light years ahead of what’s to come this season.  But with such a previously accomplished entry, Abrams has not managed to top himself, and I can’t exactly fault him for that since he already brought Star Trek into greatness.

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